Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Theatre review: Macbeth of Fire and Ice

It's been a Macbeth kind of year, and the latest is a cut-down version playing at the Arcola's main house. Director Jon Gun Thor has retitled his version Macbeth of Fire and Ice, apparently to suggest an Icelandic influence, although it might be more in the hope of confused Game of Thrones fans buying a ticket by accident. The idea is that a suggestion of Norse mythology is seen in turning the Weird Sisters into versions of the Fates, weaving lines suspended around the stage like a cobweb. The other major visual theme is of mixed martial arts, because I know kung fu's the first thing I think of if you mention Iceland. In black hoodies and trackie bottoms, six actors cast for their kicking ability play all the roles, differentiating between the characters through the medium of not differentiating between the characters.

Actually I have a feeling the whole Norse conceit might have come from a misinterpretation of the line "the night is long that never finds the day," given the actors rarely seem to know what their lines mean. Although to be fair this may be because the text edits are sweeping and seemingly done at random. Between the deliberate cuts and the actors forgetting words mid-sentence, Shakespeare is reduced to a series of bizarre non-sequiturs: "Cannot be ill, cannot be good." "Hail, for so thou art." And my favourite, "My lord is often, and hath been from his youth." Damn those often lords, with their often-ness.

I usually set myself the chore of recapping the plot in my reviews, even of plays I've seen many times, but to do so here might accidentally imply that Macbeth of Fire and Ice has any sense of narrative, so instead I'll just list a few memorable moments. There's Lady Macbeth, whose face moves a lot because Acting. My favourite moment of hers might have been when she marked out a magic circle on the floor with her fingernail, slowly. But it was quite a big circle, so after a while she either got bored or realised this was going to take ages, so just quickly waved her hand along the ground for the rest of it.

I did like Macbeth bumping into an old blind man and asking him "Saw you the weird sisters?" (He hadn't.) The same blind man later gets to be Seyton, the cream-faced loon and the doctor, simultaneously. He brings the eyewitness account of Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane, which arguably makes this unlikely news all the more unreliable. I also enjoyed a bunch of corpses jumping up and launching straight into the next scene's dialogue. And it turns out Macduff didn't need all those prophecies to make him the only one who can vanquish Macbeth. The fact that he's got a gun when everyone else has spent the last 90 minutes trying to wedgie each other to death pretty much seals the deal for him.

Every so often one of the characters will stop speaking randomly-selected snippets of Shakespeare, to do a speech praising Thor. Presumably this is part of the Norse theme, but I can't entirely discount the possibility that they're really looking forward to the film.

Macbeth of Fire and Ice, featuring words written by William Shakespeare, although not necessarily in the order spoken here, is booking until the 16th of November at Arcola Studio 1.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes straight through.


  1. Cruel, but fair.

    1. Thanks. That's more or less what I strive for. In life as well as reviewing.

  2. I love this review